Wednesday, June 20, 2007

June 19, 2007 - Pacific Crossing, Day 17

Since all the interesting stuff on this passage seems to happen during Sten's watches, I asked him to write up the latest incident . . .


So last night was an interesting one. I (Sten) was on watch just before dawn watching Season 1 of Deadwood courtesy of Danika's sister. Every half an hour of so I would pause the DVD and stick my head up on deck, have a look around, check the radar, make sure I'm happy with the set of the sails, etc. I had seen on radar and later confirmed visually a ship about 12 miles off our starboard bow. From the combination of bright lights and a relatively weak radar return, I realized that I was looking at a commercial longliner. There are lots of these out here stripping the ocean of everything that swims. Anyway, to track the course of the ship, I was using a function of the radar called EBL. Basically, it allows you to put a mark on the initial target location, wait 10 minutes, make another mark on the new position and connect the dots giving you the course of the vessel relative to yours. I was also tracking the lights on the horizon visually. As long as the bearing to the target is changing you are not going to have a collision. I had seen the lights move from 1 o'clock off our bow to 2:30 over a period of time so the bearing was definitely changing. It appeared that they were heading east. I also determined from the radar that the closest they would pass up would be over 4 miles. So no problem, two vessels pass safely in the night.

Imagine my surprise when I come on deck 20 minutes later and the ship is right next to us, maybe a quarter mile away. One thing to understand is that it is not necessarily easy at night to make out what direction a ship is going based on its lights. In this case, the colored running lights were lost in the glow of the deck lights and my panic seeing the ship so close. It soon became clear that we were on converging courses with both of us heading west. Due to our wing-on-wing downwind setup, I couldn't just head up and away from the collision course. I ran down and awoke Danika out of a very sound sleep, turned on our big deck light and went back on deck. I tried hailing the ship several times over the VHF, but they didn't respond. Possibly nobody on the bridge spoke English. It was unnerving not being able to communicate with them. We assumed that they could see us and wouldn't run us down, but we wanted to head up and get out of their way. I harnessed up and went forward to set the lines up to allow us to bring the jib to the other side of the boat and head up. My perception during this period was that we got closer and then paralleled courses, matching speed for something like 5 minutes before they changed course to starboard (right) and increased speed away from us. What had happened to my supposedly routine passing? Did the ship turn when it got close to us to take a closer look at us? Was it actually not moving originally and got underway at some point when I was down below? Were they herding us way from their longlines? We will never know for sure but I'm done taking these things for granted until the lights are fading into the distance.

No comments: